GJ Rockies' OF shows his power bat, all-around potential in first season of pro baseball
In his second at-bat of this night, Casey Golden showed why he’s a promising Major League prospect.
It started with patience.
With two runners on base in a tie game, it would have been easy for Golden to get over-amped and swing too hard.
And why not? Coming into the at-bat, he had already drilled a Grand Junction Rockies club-record 17 home runs.
The first pitch was a ball, the second a called strike. He was waiting for his pitch. Two pitches to hit came across the plate and he fouled them off. With two strikes, the pitcher threw a fastball to get a strikeout.
That was a mistake. Swing, contact, gone — home run No. 18.
The Suplizio Field crowd roared and the left fielder barely flinched as he watched the no-doubt blast sail over the wall.
“It’s been a real satisfying season but a real eye-opener being in pro ball,” Golden said with a smile as easy as his swing. “It’s a lot different. The game is the same but there’s so much different when it comes to other things.”
Rookies always have a lot to learn and it’s a quick leaning curve or the dreams of the big leagues are long gone.
Now that the Grand Junction Rockies’ season is over, this group of rookies will depart for other places.
Some will head home, others will go to instructional leagues.
All of them will await their next assignment.
Golden was one of the team’s bright spots in a disappointing season that ended without a trip to the playoffs.
After he clubbed home run No. 18, he got even hotter to end the season. The next game he hit No. 19 and followed with No. 20 the next day.
If Golden wanted to keep his name in the record books, he had to stay hot, because teammates Chad Spanberger and Ramon Marcelino were right behind him, each ending the season with 19 home runs.
Golden also etched his name in the Rockies’ record book this season with 59 RBI.
As a 20th-round draft choice out of UNC-Wilmington, Golden didn’t have the stratospheric expectations that come with those first- and second-round picks. Like all Major League clubs, the Colorado Rockies were drafting potential and they saw something in the 23-year-old.
Grand Junction manager Frank Gonzales saw that potential start to bubble to the top throughout the season. And it’s not just the power numbers that grabbed his attention.
“When you look at Casey and his abilities, he’s a rare, rare find,” Gonzales said. “When you sit down and watch this kid play for 5-6 games or a week, you’re going to see a guy who has explosive speed. You’re going to see a guy who goes and gets balls in the outfield. He’s got raw power, he’s hitting for average, and he’s got a plus arm, so you’re talking about potentially a five-tool guy.
“I think he’s a guy who has more than he even knows at this point. But we’re starting to see bits and pieces of that.”
Golden is humble and focused on taking the lessons of rookie ball and seeing where his growth potential takes him next season.
“I’m definitely not looking at the Majors right now, I’m just trying to develop,” he said. “We’ve had meetings and they’ve told me what they expect out of me and what I need to work on, so I take that to heart. This offseason, I’ll keep working and go from there.”
The power numbers flashed by Golden were to be expected after a good senior season at UNC-Wilmington.
Slowed by a hamstring injury during his junior season, Golden only hit nine home runs, but then blasted 21 as a senior.
“I think I always knew (the power) was there, it was just transitioning it from scrimmages and batting practice into the games,” he said.
Coming to Grand Junction and traveling around the Pioneer League means every game will be played at altitude.
“Oh yeah, I knew about that,” Golden said with a chuckle.
The corner outfielder was careful to not let the altitude affect his approach at the plate.
“You just have to keep that mentality of hitting line drives,” he said. “Everybody talks about the altitude here and how the ball travels in the thin air, and it’s definitely true, but there are days when it doesn’t travel like you want it to. So you have to stick to the plan.”
One of the big adjustments to professional baseball comes from the physical part of playing almost every day, and long road trips.
“It’s been tough,” Golden said. “I know you have to keep hydrated and keep your diet on point as much as you can, and dealing with the long days.
“It’s constant, I think I’ve only had four or five off days all summer.”
Being a professional baseball player is a reality check for the rookies.
“There’s no doubt, this is a tough grind, playing every day,” he said. “Some of these guys play two or three days a week in college or twice a week in high school, and now they’re playing every day, so it’s a tough adjustment.”
The mental adjustment to the pro baseball was the easy part for Golden.
“I learned at a young age that baseball is a very mental game,” he said. “You’re not going to go 4 for 4 every day and you’re going to have to overcome some adversity, so that’s helped me.”
After ranking third in the league in strikeouts with 73, he knows he has to be more consistent at the plate next season.
As for his first season as a pro baseball player, there have been plenty of memories.
Setting the home run record was pretty cool, but his favorite memory came off the diamond.
“Probably my first bus-breaking-down experience,” he said, then laughed. “We had an early game the next day and we weren’t even out of Orem yet. That was definitely interesting. The coaches said that probably won’t be the last one, either.”
Like all the rookies, Golden will wait for his next assignment. For now, he plans to head back to Wilmington for a break and to work on finishing his degree.
Of course, there will be lots of work in the weight room and on the diamond because he wants to keep his MLB dream alive.
“That’s been the dream of mine since a young age and I’m just going to keep after it,” he said.